Phocuswright conferences are all about travel tech.
Since the 1990s, booking & ticketing specialists, Online Travel Agencies (OTAs), transport & accommodation IT specialists, Financial Technology (Fintech) specialists, and IT/data 'ecosystem' developers, have been gathering to network and talk about the latest developments in this sector of the travel industry.
It's not a part of the industry that travel bloggers, influencers and content creators encounter often but at this month's Phocuswright Europe in Amsterdam, there were some interesting nuggets and trends for travel media to take note of. Several themes kept appearing and reappearing...
Mobile, mobile, mobile
No really. You think you already know that mobile is becoming increasingly important, but you really don't because the drive is coming from Asia where nearly everything is done through apps on the phone.
"Asia," Blanca Menchaca, from BeMyGuest, reminds us, is: "4.5 billion people! 60% of the world's population!" and China in particular is leading the way in mobile commerce, says Alex Shen of GetYourGuide Inc...
"Chinese people live their lives on their phones.If you think people here [in Europe] are addicted to their phones, wait till you visit Beijing or Shanghai. It'll be a culture shock!"
She points out that almost half of ecommerce in China is conducted on mobile devices, compared to a quarter in the USA. Nine out of ten Chinese purchased something on their mobile in the last 12 months, and on 11 Nov 2016 - the 'Single's Day Sales' - (a Chinese shopping festival) Alibaba took over $17.8 billion GMV, with 82% of those transactions on mobiles.
Timothy Hughes, Vice President Business Development for Agoda.com said: "The most exciting thing is the rise of apps and the rise of platforms on the phone. The Agoda of 2012/13 based its life on how much money we could spend on Google (search). By the end of 2017 half of our business will be on our app. We've done that off the demand from our asian consumers, who want to see things on their phone."
We've all recently seen what combining big data sets can do when it comes to targeting individual voters in (say) the UK or USA. Many speakers talked about how travel brands are beginning to do the same, and where it might take us.
Choon Yang Quek, Chief Technology Officer at Singapore Tourism, explained how Singapore is already combining all sorts of information to make their local tourism providers more efficient. He described how in the future an individual traveller's experience arriving at Changi might be enhanced…
"When you walk off the aircraft the immigration authorities already have most of your information. The minute they stamp your passport you are already checked into your hotel. Your mobile phone becomes your [room] key. As you walk through you don't have to pick up your bags because we already know which hotel you are going to. Just go outside and you have an Uber or a Grab taxi waiting for you. So within five minutes of leaving the aircraft you are on your way to your hotel!"
Choon Yang Quek explained how they were gathering data, analysing it and using it to shape products and offers for different segments of their visitors.
They do this through STAN (Singapore Tourism Analytics Network), which analyses data from cellphone network towers and geo-location networks, tourism receipts, expenditure information from credit card providers, sales data from retail outlets, and combines it into a data mashup.
A typical result is the identification of group behaviour. For example they have spotted that South Koreans like to upgrade their hotels on the third day of their visit.
"Now, if you are a hotel chain, that's potentially quite an interesting piece of information, right?" he says. "If you have a range of hotel grades that might be something you can package for South Koreans".
They've also been analysing how people move around and how long they spend at individual attractions. They've spotted that Chinese visitors like to visit temples before going on to visit casinos or shopping centres.
"Makes sense in hindsight, right? Go to the temples to pray for good luck before hitting the poker table!"
But now, armed with information like that, travel providers can create packages pairing up different types of attraction.
Paul English, former founder of Kayak and now CEO of Lola, a smart travel concierge, thinks Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the key to developing personalisation...
"If you are going to Miami for the first time, how can we use your hotel selections in Amsterdam to influence what we pick for you in Miami? Or how can we use the selections in Miami made by other people that are very like you?"
These are personalisation skills that Lola is using AI to develop.
“What did you say?”
Many speakers over the two days talked about the disruptive impact of voice search. It's not just on phones. The arrival of first Google then Amazon and Facebook in the living room, has really kickstarted the world of voice search.
Terri Scriven, Google Head of Hospitality, says that 20% of all mobile searches in the USA are now by voice. Given the explosive expansion of mobile, it's not hard to see how important natural language and context will drive seo.
"Think about Amazon. Amazon was not in 'search' at all... other than for items on their site," says Simon Breakwell of Technology Crossover Ventures (formerly co-founder of Expedia). "And out of nowhere, with Alexa, suddenly they are into search! It's kinda geeky at the moment and a little bit frustrating, but when you say 'Hey Alexa, what's the cheapest flight to Miami?'... then you are in 'search'!"
He thinks it will be very disruptive for Google's business model: "If you want to be in the top three or four [SERPS] and you're paying, say, $10 billion a year between Priceline & Expedia to be there, then when you are talking to Alexa, you don't want Alexa to start listing the top five flights. You just want one! It's going to be very disruptive to Google and the way the major OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) get distributed."
Several speakers spoke about the growing significance of Virtual Reality (VR)
In particular, Salar Shahna of World VR Forum, talked about how already airlines like Etihad & Qantas have been using VR in their in-flight entertainment to enable passengers to experience travel & destinations they've not been to. How hotels are beginning to use Augmented Reality (AR) to enhance their guests' stay, while there. And how travellers themselves are using 360° VR to share their experiences while there or when back at home.
He talked about Facebook Spaces, which is their new VR platform in Beta, and how you can easily see how the travel product and shared travel experience can be brought into a VR setting...
"It's a very good example of how we can create a personal relationship in the customer journey because you have your avatar and you can move and be together in the space. If you take a 360 picture and put it in the middle you can be in that environment [experience it with the others in the space], and I can totally see how Facebook Spaces could be a great tool for the travel industry - you can meet your customer, you can talk with him, you can say 'OK, this will be your hotel' and you take that 360 picture, put it in the middle and boom! There you are!"